Can Gluten Contribute to Behavior Problems in Kids?

Dr. Mercola has written a very informative article on how gluten can impact a child’s behavior. Here are some excerpts from his article:

There’s evidence suggesting that gluten sensitivity may be at the root of many neurological and psychiatric conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What is gluten?

From Wikepedia: Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue“) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture.

It has long been known that people with celiac disease are also more likely to suffer from ADHD, another condition that is heavily influenced by dietary habits.

However, while the treatment of celiac disease is a completely gluten-free diet, with ADHD the most oft-cited dietary villain is sugar, whereas grains are often overlooked (even though they act much like sugar in your body).

It turns out, though, that there may be a closer link between the symptoms of celiac disease and ADHD than was previously recognized, and that connection is gluten.

A Gluten-Free Diet May “Cure” ADHD

Many children with ADHD do not respond well to most grains, especially wheat. This could be because they have full-blown celiac disease, which impacts an average of one out of every 133 people in the United States (although some studies have found that this number may be as high as 1 in 33 in at-risk populations) — or because they have a less obvious condition known as gluten sensitivity.

People with gluten sensitivity, which may comprise 10 percent of the U.S. population or more, experience many of the same symptoms as celiac disease causes, including headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, gas and more, but may be unaware that the culprit triggering these symptoms is wheat and other gluten-containing grains. It’s also very possible to have celiac disease and not know it … as researchers state, “in many cases, the disease may be clinically silent despite manifest small bowel mucosal lesions.”

But the psychological and behavioral symptoms of ADHD are now overlapping so often with those of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity that it’s recommended “celiac disease … be included in the ADHD symptom checklist.” This suggestion was prompted by a new study, which found people with ADHD who tested positive for celiac disease improved significantly after following a gluten-free diet for at least six months. The researchers noted:

“After initiation of the gluten-free diet, patients or their parents reported a significant improvement in their behavior and functioning compared to the period before celiac diagnosis and treatment … “

Why Even Whole, Sprouted Wheat is a Problem

I recommend that everyone following my beginner nutrition plan eliminate all gluten from their diets, whether or not they have celiac disease or ADHD, because many experience health improvements upon doing so. Among the most important foods to avoid are those gluten-containing grains that contain gliadin molecules, such as wheat.

Therefore regardless of your sensitivity level to the wheat proteins, gliadin opens up a pandora’s box of intestinal permeability, and subsequent systemic inflammation and immune dysregulation.

Why ADHD Symptoms are Closely Linked to Gut Health

A variety of behavioral problems are linked to problems in your gut, not only from gluten, and other components of grains but also due to the gut-brain connection. The gut-brain connection is well recognized as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine, so this isn’t all that surprising, even though it’s often overlooked. There’s also a wealth of evidence showing gastrointestinal involvement in a variety of neurological diseases.

With this in mind, it should also be crystal clear that nourishing your gut flora is extremely important at all life stages because in a very real sense you have two brains, one inside your skull and one in your gut, and each needs its own vital nourishment.

Your gut and your brain are actually created out of the same type of tissue. During fetal development, one part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system. These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. This is what connects your two brains together, and explains such phenomena as getting butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, for example.

What are the Keys to Treating ADHD with Dietary Changes?

It is my sincere hope that people will begin to realize that drug therapy, if at all necessary, should be a very last resort, after all other options have been exhausted, when it comes to behavioral problems such as ADHD. The first route of treatment should actually be dietary changes, including:

  • Eliminate most grains and sugars, including fructose, from your child’s diet. Grains and sugars both tend to cause allergies in sensitive individuals. Even organic, whole, sprouted grain can cause problems in many children so it would be wise to give them a “grain holiday” and see if their behavior improves.
  • Replace soft drinks (whether diet and regular), fruit juices, and pasteurized milk with pure, clean non-fluoridated water.
  • Increase omega-3 fats by taking a high quality animal-based omega-3 oil. Research has confirmed that animal-based omega-3 fat can improve the symptoms of ADHD more effectively than drugs like Ritalin® and Concerta®. In my view, krill oil is the best option for this. It contains essential EPA and DHA in a double-chain phospholipid structure that makes it far more absorbable than the omega-3s in fish oil.
  • Minimize your use of nearly all processed fats, especially trans fats as they disrupt nerve cell intercommunication.
  • Avoid all processed foods, especially those containing fructose, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, which may trigger or worsen symptoms. Gluten is also commonly hidden in processed foods like ready-made soups, soy sauce, candies, cold cuts, and various low- and no-fat products, as well as refined grain products like bread, pizza crust, pasta, cookies and pastries.

I also recommend you have your child follow a gluten-free diet to see if this eliminates their symptoms. Your best bet when deciding to eliminate gluten is to primarily base your diet on lean proteins, vegetables and raw dairy products, as described in my nutrition plan, and stick with the grains, seeds and flours available that are naturally gluten-free.

Gluten-free options are becoming much more in demand and as a result are showing up in grocery stores, restaurants and from caterers. But keep in mind, particularly if you are relying on processed gluten-free foods, that cross-contamination can and does occur, most likely during processing, and many companies simply aren’t testing to make sure the final product is still gluten-free.

One study found that of the 22 naturally gluten-free products tested, seven of them would not be considered gluten-free under the proposed FDA rule for gluten-free labeling, which requires products labeled as ‘gluten-free’ to contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. So again, to be sure your diet is truly gluten-free, it should be based on whole foods, not processed ones.

Finally, the benefits of a gluten-free diet do not always appear overnight. Some do experience improvements rapidly, but in others it can take 9 to 12 months before the lining of your small intestine is fully healed. Generally, allow 6 to 9 months of following a gluten-free diet before you expect symptoms to resolve.

From article:

Child Have ADHD? Stop Feeding Them This ,Posted By Dr. Mercola |

November 02 2011 © Copyright 1997-2012 Dr. Joseph Mercola. All Rights Reserved.


7 Responses to Can Gluten Contribute to Behavior Problems in Kids?

  1. Amy January 2, 2016 at 3:40 AM #

    I feel as though this article was written to describe my son. Two years ago at the age of four, our little guy was diagnosed as being a sensory seeker. And although his various therapies were helping a ton, I still felt that there was a missing piece of the puzzle. Through a food journal, we realized that dyes were also a contributing factor to his behavior, as were preservatives. Removal of these offending additives changed his life! He instantly had so much more control and body awareness. After months of improvement, we reached a plateau. Although it seemed that he was become more and more at ease and able to control his seeking urges, we felt that there was still a missing component. We decided to remove gluten. We had been dreading this change but knew that if it helped our little guy it would be worth it. The eczema on his face cleared up within days of stopping gluten. His mood improved drastically as he was now so relaxed and just seemed happier. In the past, when ingesting offending items, he would act out irrationally. When asked why he chose to do this, his response would always be that he didn’t know and then he would cry. After the removal of gluten along with the dyes and preservatives, these episodes were almost nonexistent. The majority of our food is now cooked/baked from scratch. Although it has been a huge adjustment for our family, especially giving up gluten, it has been worth it. Seeing our son happy and feeling balanced makes our hearts happy. I thank you for this article which shows that we are not crazy in our choices and that gluten can definitely affect behavior. Trust me- we have living proof!

  2. Regina May 18, 2013 at 6:53 AM #

    There are five of us at church who are Celiac or gluten sensitive. Four of us are also the ones that have the behavior problem children (ADHD, autism, extreme irritability). I was noticing this last Sunday and thought there must be a connection, 4 out of 5 is pretty significant. This article validates my observations.

  3. Jacquie May 13, 2013 at 12:48 AM #

    Thanks for explaining the connection between behavior and gluten/the gut.

    My almost-5-year-old son was diagnosed (based on a questionnaire and 15 minute observation) with ADHD at 46 months and subsequently diagnosed and treated for underlying sensory issues. We just had him tested for ADHD, and he now shows no sign of ADHD, ADD or Autism, but he is still has behavior problems. He is seeing a chiropractor once a month and behavioral therapy once a week. For over a year I’ve thought about taking him (and subsequently the whole family) gluten free, but I didn’t want the hassle or inconvenience of it. I recently had his bloodwork done to rule out diabetes, and the interpretation came back that he might have bleeding/irritation in his gut. Because of this I finally made the switch to GF six days ago, and it’s not nearly as challenging as I had imagined. My son’s behavior has improved this past week, but could this be due to the gluten free diet? Would I see an impact that quickly?

    • admin May 13, 2013 at 4:48 PM #

      Thank you for sharing your story, Jacquie. Sounds like you made a wise decision. I have heard other mothers tell of almost immediate changes by changing their children’s diets.

  4. Lashawn March 9, 2013 at 8:42 PM #

    Have a eight year old who is diagnosed with Bipolar, ADHD, and PTSD. Going to try and find the right gluten free diet for him. He is also alergic to wheat, soy, casien, tomatoes, almounds, etc. So thanks for the article it help explain some of his system and why he displays certain moods.

  5. Kylie November 9, 2012 at 5:50 AM #

    Thanks for the helpful article. Going to try going gluten free and see if we benefit from it.

    • admin November 9, 2012 at 6:13 PM #

      Glad to hear that the article was helpful. Hope you have success with this.